During brutal Kentucky cold, blankets distributed, shelters fill up

Herald-Leader staff writersJanuary 6, 2014 

As Kentuckians continued to try to keep warm in the midst of an arctic blast, people in Lexington went door-to-door handing out blankets, shelters were packed and schools were closed Monday and Tuesday.

Temperatures in Lexington dropped 50 degrees from Sunday afternoon to Monday afternoon, and the mercury continued to fall Monday night, said chief meteorologist Chris Bailey of WKYT-TV.

When the wind chill is factored in, "it feels 70 to 80 degrees colder" than it did Sunday, he said, noting that it felt like 21 degrees below zero at about 7 p.m.

Tuesday's high was expected to be about 11, but the temperature was likely to be below zero early in the day.

The last time Lexington saw back-to-back sub-zero days was in February 1996.

Bailey said it also was extremely rare for Kentucky to get snow when it is this cold, but there were some showers with powdery snowflakes Monday.

"This is basically the weather that they get at the North Pole," Bailey said.

But a warm-up is coming.

Bailey said highs would be in the upper 20s Wednesday. There could be some light snow Thursday, but by Friday and Saturday, temperatures should be in the 40s.

Don't get used to that, though — Bailey said he expected more sub-zero weather this month or early February.

Help for those who need it

A tractor-trailer carrying 4,000 blankets from a Virginia faith-based organization arrived in Lexington on Monday afternoon to help needy residents keep warm.

The blankets were sent by Gleaning for the World, which does disaster relief in the U.S. and overseas. Mike Justice, church network director for the organization, said he learned there was a need for cold-weather help in Lexington through his daughter, whose used to work here.

A cruiser from the Fayette County sheriff's office met the truck on Winchester Road and led it to the Catholic Action Center's GodsNet facility on East Seventh Street.

There, a small army of volunteers pitched in to unload the blankets, then transfer them to other vehicles that delivered them to warming centers and shelters around town, including 300 blankets each to the Hope Center and Salvation Army. Some blankets were to go into Lexington police cruisers, and officers will pass them out to needy people they see while on patrol.

Representatives from the sheriff's department also started distributing some blankets door-to-door Monday afternoon, mainly to elderly people who had called earlier to request help because of the cold weather. The blankets are designed to be used for a short time during a period of need and then disposed of.

Richard Head, fleet service director at the sheriff's department, took two blankets to an apartment on Jennifer Road, where roommates Shellie Hall and Bobbie Hager said they were glad to get them.

Hall said the heat in their apartment is pre-set, and they can't raise it any higher.

"It's set on 72 degrees, but I'm still cold," Hall said.

At the two women's suggestion, Head delivered three blankets to Dorethan Woods and her son, Donovan, 9, who live upstairs at the same apartment complex.

Woods said she had stuffed towels under her front door to combat drafts but was having trouble keeping the apartment warm enough. She said that with the weather getting even colder Monday night, she was grateful to get the blankets.

Older people on fixed incomes are feeling the stress, said Sheriff Kathy Witt.

"We had a number of residents call us Sunday night needing additional blankets and coats," she said. "For people on fixed incomes, no matter if the temperature is 6 degrees or 46 degrees, the thermostat is going to be on one number. They can't move it. That's why we're seeing additional requests for blankets and clothing."

Ginny Ramsey, director of the Catholic Action Center and the Community Inn, said 80 volunteers from the Catholic Action Center went door-to-door in the Woodhill neighborhood, local trailer parks and inner-city neighborhoods Sunday afternoon, distributing 2,500 coats and 3,000 blankets donated by local citizens.

Homeless shelters have seen an influx of people.

Ramsey said 114 people stayed at the Community Inn on Sunday night, and 26 people spent the night at the Catholic Action Center, which will stay open around the clock until 7 p.m. Wednesday to shelter anyone who needs to get warm.

On Sunday, "we had people ... going out and finding folks" and persuading them to come inside, Ramsey said. "This is for safety at this point."

She said 140 to 150 people were at the Catholic Action Center for meals Monday.

"It's just been packed," she said.

Lextran has provided free shuttle service to get people from the Catholic Action Center to the Community Inn at night, then transport them back to the Catholic Action Center when the inn closes in the morning.

The Hope Center housed 236 people in its emergency shelter on Loudon Avenue on Sunday night, and just as many people were expected Monday night.

Kenneth Newton, the Hope Center's director of plant operations and safety, said it had been a long time since the shelter had had that many guests.

Maj. Deborah Ashcraft, area coordinator for the Salvation Army in Lexington, said her shelter for women and children was so full Sunday night that some people bedded down on mattresses on the floor. She expected the facility to be equally full Monday night.

Electrical utilities reported scattered outages, but most were repaired by late Monday morning.

A Laurel County crash that killed a woman from Canada was the only serious weather-related accident in Central Kentucky as bitter cold descended Monday .

Svetlana Frkovic of Ontario died at University of Kentucky Chandler Hospital, where she was taken after the wreck, Laurel County Sheriff John Root said.

Frkovic was in the back seat of a car driven by her husband, Slavko Frkovic. The two, with their daughter Sanja Frkovic, were traveling south on Interstate 75 at 1:50 a.m. when their car hit a patch of ice and spun into the path of a southbound tractor-trailer, according to a news release.

Slavko and Sanja Frkovic were seriously injured, Root said.

Hazardous to your health

The cold weather has created real health hazards.

Dr. Brian Adkins, an emergency-room doctor at UK Chandler Medical Center, said the intensity of the weather had the community paying attention to the cold in a way he hadn't often seen. But, he said, that didn't mean precautions weren't needed.

"Don't be out there if you don't have to" is the overall message, Adkins said.

If you must go outside, be mindful of the symptoms of the two biggest health challenges — frostbite and hypothermia.

Frostbite is damage to soft tissue and usually causes skin to become a white or grayish-yellow. Skin might feel unusually firm or waxy and might be numb.

Adkins said that one of the common cold-weather emergencies he sees occurs when people try to warm up hands or feet too quickly and cause more damage.

Hypothermia occurs when the body's core temperature drops to a dangerous level, affecting the brain's ability to work correctly.

Those most at risk are elderly people and small children and those who are intoxicated or are outside for long periods, like the homeless.

"Basically, helpless people who need our attention," he said.

People with heart and lung problems, or people with diabetes should be extra cautious if they go outside, Adkins said.



Learn more

Tips from the CDC on frostbite and treatment: 1.usa.gov/1dK8u5E

Tips from the CDC on hypothermia and treatment: 1.usa.gov/Ktl5iI

Herald-Leader reporter Mary Meehan contributed to this story. Karla Ward: (859) 231-3314. Twitter: @HLpublicsafety

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